Losing a ‘treasured community leader’: Local benefactor and businessman Tony Moravec dies at age 72

STORY UPDATED AT 10 A.M. WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT CAUSE OF DEATH

The Bartholomew County Coroner’s office said Thursday morning preliminary autopsy results indicate that Columbus businessman and philanthropist Tony Moravec died of natural causes. Bartholomew County Coroner Clayton Nolting said the cause of death ruling is pending while the office awaits toxicology results, but there is nothing suspicious being investigated at this time.

STORY UPDATED AT 8:30 A.M. THURSDAY WITH STATEMENT FROM FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE

ORIGINAL STORY

COLUMBUS, Ind. — A community benefactor and businessman in Columbus who restored the city’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor and turned the city’s downtown pump house into a destination tourist spot has died at the age of 72.

Anthony “Tony” Moravec, owner of Blairex and Applied Laboratories, was found dead Tuesday night in his truck near the Factory 12 Event Loft parking lot in Columbus after he attended the Bartholomew County Republican Party’s election night watch party, officials said.

The cause of death is under investigation with an autopsy planned for late Wednesday, the Bartholomew County Coroner’s Office said. Moravec previously suffered a heart attack in 2013 that required a quadruple bypass.

Local residents who knew and worked with Moravec in a number of community projects were taken aback by the loss of such a treasured leader and community philanthropist. He was remembered as an individual with an eye toward historical preservation in Columbus.

“He was a great personal friend as well as a friend to Columbus,” Mayor Jim Lienhoop said. “We share in this loss with his family.”

Columbus native and former Vice President Mike Pence said he and his wife Karen were heartbroken to learn of Moravec’s death and expressed their deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

“Tony Moravec lived the American dream and shared his success with the city and state he loved like few other Hoosiers. His generosity created opportunities across this community from commerce to education and left an indelible mark on Columbus, Indiana,” Pence said.

Bartholomew County Republican Party Chairwoman Luanne Welmer said Moravec was a “lovely man” and “is truly going to be missed.”

Welmer said she spoke with Moravec Tuesday night at the watch party.

“I did enjoy speaking with him last night at the watch party at the Loft,” Welmer said. “He seemed in good spirits and seemed to be having a good time. He stayed for quite a while and visited with people. …He was always very giving of his time and to the Republican Party and also offering some of his resources at Zaharako’s or at Upland.”

Welmer said one of her fondest memories of Moravec was being among a group of Republican officials who received a personal tour of Zaharako’s from him about six months ago.

“He was so proud of being able to share all of that history that is held there at Zaharako’s,” Welmer said. “I could tell that it was just a great passion of his to be able to share with other people.”

“He’s truly going to be missed,” she said.

Former Bartholomew County Republican Party Chairwoman Barb Hackman, who knew Moravec for “quite a few years,” said he was “very generous,” “kind” and “will be missed sorely by this community.”

Hackman also saw Moravec Tuesday night and “talked to him for quite a bit.”

“It’s so sad. We lost such a huge community leader and a good fellow Republican, supported the Republican Party so much and just a good friend,” Hackman said.

“If you needed something, just call Tony. He was always more than willing to help,” Hackman said.

Hackman said her fondest memories of Moravec were when Sen. Ted Cruz visited Zaharako’s in 2016 and when then-Vice President Mike Pence returned to Columbus for the first time on board Air Force Two.

“We all stood there waiting to greet Mike (Pence) as he and Karen came off the plane,” Hackman said. “We were just so excited for Mike. …Tony was there, and so he got to go up on Air Force Two with the rest of us.”

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts said that as a relatively new member of the community, he didn’t know Moravec well. However, he commended his contributions to Columbus.

“Tony was a special person for this community,” said Roberts. “His presence was huge in terms of engagement in various activities, presence with things that went on within the community and stood out with the enhancements that he made to the community with things like Zaharako’s, Upland, and then contributing to, most recently … the Ivy Tech building.”

Roberts, who is a member of the Ivy Tech Community College – Columbus board, expressed the trustees’ gratitude for the generosity of Moravec and his family in that endeavor.

Ivy Tech-Columbus Chancellor Steven Combs said Moravec deeply believed in the importance and power of education and showed through his meaningful actions and generosity that he stood behind his beliefs.

“We are honored to have his name on our new Columbus campus building and to have celebrated with him at our recent ribbon-cutting ceremony. We will continue to honor his legacy of ensuring access to attainable, high-quality education.” Combs said.

Therese Copeland, Ivy Tech Columbus Executive Director of Development, said the college truly appreciated Moravec’s incredible impact “on the lives of so many in our community, including our own Ivy Tech students. Tony had a heart of gold and always wanted to ensure everyone had the opportunity to continue pursuing education. We are profoundly saddened by his loss and will remember him for his kindness, warmth, and benevolence.”

Moravec was born and raised in St. Louis as one of 10 children and was one of the first from his family to go to college. He graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Moravec and his wife Sue quit their jobs at an Indiana pharmaceutical company and started Columbus-based Applied Laboratories in 1984 as a regulatory consulting firm with $2,500 and later moved the company into a 20,533-square-foot building in Columbus and began its work in manufacturing.

By 1989, Moravec had been named the Columbus Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 1990 he was named Indiana Entrepreneur of the Year.

In the 1990s, the Moravecs acquired a controlling interest in Evansville-based Blairex Laboratories and moved the pharmaceutical marketing company to Columbus. Today, Applied Laboratories manufactures over-the-counter pharmaceutical products — liquids, ointments, creams, gels — for customers. Blairex serves as the marketing arm of the business.

In 1992, the Moravecs bought the rights to the Pertussin trademark. As of 1996, every bottle of the cough syrup sitting in store shelves nationwide came from Columbus. Blairex acquired 15 brands in 1999, as well as Zilactin, a cold sore relief gel, in 2005 and Boudreaux’s Butt Paste in 2006.

In 2007, Moravec purchased the Zaharako family’s old ice cream parlor on Washington Street, and completely refurbished it so that its old-time charm could be enjoyed in the community again — including acquiring the famous Welte organ — and reopening it 2009.

He also bought and converted the city’s historic, but decaying, pump house in 2015 and turned it into into a brew pub known as the Upland Columbus Pump House, which opened in 2016.

At the same time, Moravec was a big donor to Republican candidates, including his friend, Columbus native and former Vice President Mike Pence.

In 2018, Moravec stepped down as president of Applied Laboratories and Blairex but was still chairman for both companies, as well as the majority shareholder of Moravec Holding Corp, which owns both companies.

Last year, Ivy Tech named its new $32 million main campus building “Moravec Hall,” which opened for classes this past June. He was appointed as an Ivy Tech State Board of Trustees member in 2008 and again in 2011 until 2014.

Ivy Tech Community College Sue Ellspermann said Moravec selflessly served the Columbus community and Indiana.

“He was a passionate supporter of post-secondary education as an Ivy Tech trustee, and generously committed his time and resources to drive improvements that benefited so many of our residents. He quietly led by example and we are sincerely grateful to have had his thoughtful support throughout the years. On behalf of Ivy Tech Community College, we mourn his passing and will keep his family in our thoughts,” she said.

In 2015, Moravec said he knew early on in his life that he would have to work hard if he wanted to be successful. That ambition, he said, came from his parents, Frank Moravec Jr. and Evelyn Moravec, and his grandparents, Frank Moravec Sr. and Anna Moravec.

On multiple occasions, Moravec said Columbus’ location and business-friendly environment persuaded him to do business here. “I’m in Columbus by choice, not by chance,” Moravec said in 2015.